Saturday, October 29, 2011

Contagious Ides are Driving

Three interesting 2011 movies.

(Directed by Nicolas Winding Refn. Starring Ryan Gosling, Carey Mulligan, and Albert Brooks.)

Style over substance. The movie has wonderful visuals and music. It has a sense of place (a gritty Los Angeles). Albert Brooks is splendid. Unfortunately, the crime drama doesn’t go anywhere unexpected or interesting. I am tired -- so very tired -- of violence used as a crutch for lack of storytelling.

The Ides of March
(Directed by George Clooney. Starring Ryan Gosling, Philip Seymour Hoffman, George Clooney, Paul Giamatti, Evan Rachel Wood, and Marisa Tomei.)

A fabulous cast is mostly wasted in a movie that combines two kinds of story that don’t work well together. Part of the movie is smart political drama, with interesting observations regarding candidates and policy questions. Here the dialog is sharp and compelling. The other part of the movie is trashy melodrama. Trashy melodrama is fine on its own. Alas, it undercuts any attempt to be smart.

(Directed by Steven Soderbergh. Starring Gwyneth Paltrow, Matt Damon, Laurence Fishburne, Jude Law, Marion Cotillard, Jennifer Ehle, and Kate Winslet.)

Rather chilly and emotionally distant most of the time. Yet, that works quite well for this movie about a lethal infection that spreads across the world. Another amazing cast, yet no star turns as everyone serves the story, which rolls out gradually and skillfully, building tension as it proceeds. Perhaps because the film does not emotionally pander to the audience, we steadily grow to sympathize with the characters, even as they make mistakes or become infected. One odd character: Jude Law plays an ethically challenged opportunist who sees conspiracies everywhere. Through his website he sows fear and confusion while promoting for his own gain an unproven herbal remedy. The film is convincing, disturbing, and cautionary. Recommended.

Tuesday, October 11, 2011

SF Encyclopedia on Thomas M. Disch

"Because of his intellectual audacity, the chillingly distanced mannerism of his narrative art, the austerity of the pleasures he affords, and the fine cruelty of his wit, Disch was perhaps the most respected, least trusted, most envied and least read of all modern sf writers of the first rank. "

From the Science Fiction Encyclopedia, Third Edition, on Thomas M. Disch, as pointed out by Scott Edelman on Twitter.

SFE: entry on Thomas M. Disch

Monday, October 10, 2011

SF Encyclopedia 3rd Edition goes live

The much-anticipated (by science fiction nerds like me) and newly expanded online edition of the Encyclopedia of Science Fiction is now available in its "beta" version. The scope of the project is enormous. The Second Edition, which appeared in print in 1995, was approximately 1.3 million words. The beta version of the Third Edition is about 3 million words, with the "completed" version expected to total 4 million words. Completed is a relative term for online editions. Monthly updates are planned for some time after completion. Nor are these padded entries, providing endless trivia about minor authors. They tend to be brief, sometimes overly so to this reader, with longer entries for longer and more significant careers. This is not a Wikipedia-style project. It is edited by John Clute, David Langford, Peter Nicholls, and Graham Sleight, with several knowledgeable contributors. It is a scholarly and critical guide, packed with information and enlivened with well-informed critical judgments.

I listened this morning to Cheryl Morgan's Salon Futura podcast where she interviews Graham Sleight about the SF Encyclopedia and it provides an excellent overview of the scope and goals of the several-years-long project. Sleight compares the project, in part, with the wonderfully opinionated Biographical Dictionary of Film by David Thomson, whose book I admire.

In browsing the new online edition I've already found it to be addictive and fascinating. The subdued star-map background is pleasant and not distracting. Toward the end of the text describing Gene Wolfe's career I came across the phrase "he wears the fictional worlds of sf like a coat of many colours", which is beautifully stated. Elsewhere in the Encyclopedia I've found gaps that I hope will be filled soon. Congratulations to all involved for reaching this beta release milestone.

Related links:
SFE: The Encyclopedia of Science Fiction, Third Edition
Cheryl Morgan's Salon Futura podcast on The Encyclopedia of SF
SFE: entry for Gene Wolfe